By Cheryl Rodewig

Drama Kids celebrates its one-year anniversary on Fort Benning this month. One of many classes available through SKIESUnlimited, the program teaches kids the art of acting and a few life skills along the way. “We are not performance-based; we are process-oriented,” said Valeria Marto, director and teacher of Drama Kids. “The goal is to use the performing arts to build the child — to build confidence, self-esteem, their skills for public speaking. As William Shakespeare put it, ‘All the world’s a stage.’ Every child deserves to be trained in the areas of communication and presentation skills, so they can achieve their best in life.”

Before Drama Kids came to Fort Benning, SKIESUnlimited didn’t offer any theater classes. But as parents showed an interest in having a drama program on post, Child, Youth & School Services started working to make that happen, said Carolyn Shelton, program manager for SKIESUnlimited. Part of an international curriculum, Drama Kids is designed for children of all skill levels, ages 5 to 18. “This is for every child. I truly believe in the power of drama as an outlet for children to express their feelings and verbalize their emotions,” said Marto, who was active in theater during her childhood in Brazil. “We have kids who are very shy. Once they start, they really blossom. Everybody can do it. It’s just a matter of training.” “You can use your energy, learn new things and have fun at the same time,” said 9-year-old Frederich Lightner. “I have learned how to interact well with others, to act, to speak clearly and not have stage fright.”

For more outgoing kids, it can be a venue for their enthusiasm. Jahaira Simms said her daughter Jaela has never met a stranger, but she and her husband, 1st Lt. Josh Simms, chose Drama Kids as a constructive way for their third-grader “to get all her sillies out.” Jaela, 8, said her time at Drama Kids is the best part of her week. “There’s like a fun meter inside my body,” she said, “and whenever I’m acting it goes all the way to the top. It just tickles me.” So far, she has played a clown, a lion and a jogger in different class activities. “You don’t have to be good at it,” she said. “It’s just for fun.” That’s part of the reason everyone gets a part in the annual play they put on. Parts are distributed based on personality and ability, no auditions needed, Marto said. An award is also given to each child at the end of the year. “We do shows, but with the goal of building the actor. It’s not about the audience,” she said. “We work with every child wherever they’re at to help them build their character. What we find is that it creates a greater appreciation for diversity because a child gets to understand different characters, build different personalities.

That’s really the magic of drama.” Sgt. 1st Class Lorenzo Patrick said he signed up his daughter, 6-year-old Ashanti Nevilles, for Drama Kids at the beginning of the year to challenge her and help develop her self-confidence. “It might help me be a star,” said Ashanti, who cited not turning your back to the audience and speaking up as two things she’s already learned. “It’s creative. You can pretend that you’re on stage,” she said. “It’s really fun — you should go and ask your parents.” The program runs September through May. Since practice for the May performance is starting, kids need to sign up before the end of February, Marto said. Besides the location on post at the McGraw Child Development and Performing Arts Center, Building 11306, 8220 Custer Road, Drama Kids is also offered in the community. But military families get a discount through CYSS. It’s $15 per class off post, but only $56 per month on Fort Benning. Parents can sign their kids up for Drama Kids or any other SKIESUnlimited classes at Parent Central in Building 104. Children must be registered with CYSS.